We don’t believe in anything any more.
While that may be a slight exaggeration, one of the realities that has come into clear focus over the past 10-20 years is that many of the institutions that once carried near-universal trust are now viewed skeptically by the American public
Gallup conducts a poll testing support for these institutions annually. And its latest findings show that our faith in institutions is as low as it has ever been.
Of the 16 major institutions Gallup tested, 11 of them saw significant declines in support over the past year alone. Not one of those 16 posted an increase in trust between 2021 and today.
Trust in the presidency fell off of a cliff – from 38% in 2021 to 23% this year. Trust in the Supreme Court dropped 11 percentage points, and that was BEFORE the court issued its rulings overturning Roe v. Wade and loosening gun restrictions.
Of the 14 institutions Gallup has been consistently polling on since 1973, the average of adults expressing a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them is just 27%, the lowest it has ever been.
(In case you were wondering, only two groups have a majority of people expressing considerable confidence in them: Small business, 68%, and the military, 64%.)
And, these declines in trust in all 16 institutions are consistent across party lines. As Gallup notes, the average decline among Republicans this year was 4 points, while it was 5 points among Democrats and 6 points among independents.
“Americans’ confidence in institutions has been lacking for most of the past 15 years, but their trust in key institutions has hit a new low this year. Most of the institutions Gallup tracks are at historic lows, and average confidence across all institutions is now four points lower than the prior low.”
What do all of these numbers mean for our politics, and our culture more generally?
It’s clear that the institutions that functioned as pillars of our society are eroding. Some are losing support faster and some slower, but all of them are in a worse place today than they were, say, 20 years ago.
The problem for us as a nation is that nothing has emerged as a trusted replacement for these institutions. A void has been created, which has led to a deep skepticism coursing through our culture.
Take doctors and the broader medical system. There was once considerable trust in that institution – a belief across party lines that doctors were to be trusted and listened to. But in the most recent Gallup poll, less than 4 in 10 Americans (38%) express a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in the medical system.
Which is a very unfortunate loss of faith amid a global pandemic. And explains why so many people disregard the advice of doctors and other medical professionals when it comes to dealing with Covid-19.
That’s just one example. But it’s illustrative of where we are: Adrift in a world in which facts are fungible and no one believes much of anything.
The Point: We are in a period of drastic social and cultural change. We have moved heavily away from the institutions that once defined our lives. But we haven’t replaced them with anything, which often leads to us feeling utterly lost.